How To – What is the Best Deck Stain?

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    Every few years we have to take a weekend and stain the wood on our deck to protect it from the elements.

    If it has been a few years since your last refinishing then your trip to the local supply store may have you wondering about the available products and prices even if you are staying with the same manufacturer you originally used.

    Price is a concern for every project and if you are like me you probably saw a doubling of deck stain prices from just a few years ago.

    You might also notice if you look closely that although the color match numbers have stayed the same the product formulas have changed. This is because of somewhat new EPA rules for Volatile organics in paints.

    You may see that the product you are looking at is now water based cleanup rather then mineral spirits. Although this may aid you in your cleanup the product must still be able to withstand years of abuse and water based vs oil based is not always a good replacement.

    Low VOC vs Standard Oil Based Stains Which Lasts Longer?

    If you live in an area that is in the middle of a switch over or if rules in your area still allow VOC 5 or “Old Formula Paints and Stains” then it is probably best that you stay with what you started with.

    Low VOC Deck Stain is normally an Acrylic base material and although testing has gone into its manufacture many people that I have talked with say the products are of a lesser quality then what you are previously use to using.

    You can expect shorter lifespans for Low VOC Stain and you should look close at the can to check if the rating they are providing is Deck or Siding lifespan.

    Many manufacturers list only the siding lifespan which is normally twice that of the flat decking area.

    If you see a product with both take note of the differences in how long the product will last vs your previous product. I would bet that the lifespan of the new Low VOC Stain is about half that of what you previously applied. Every Low VOC product that I have seen has at least 30% shorter life then the product I use to use for years.

    Eventually the problems with Low VOC may be engineered around but honestly even if I had to change brands or shop a distance from my home I would use Standard Stain rather then Low VOC if I could. It is just a better product that will last years longer if you apply it right.

    What do you choose Transparent, Semi-Transparent or Solid Deck Stain?

    The product you choose or its level of transparency will effect how long the product lasts and how difficult your reapplication process will be.

    Personally where I live in the North East USA I like to use a Semi Transparent stain and apply at least three coats to all surfaces. If you live in other areas you may be better off using a product that matches the weather conditions and use of your deck.

    Semi Transparent Stains can be built up from a thin coat that does not modify the color of the wood to a thicker application that will hide out wood rings, knots and discoloration. Two coats are normally needed from any product so adding a third or fourth is for stain and discoloration holdout.

    Solid Stain is basically oil paint. It should hide all of  the color of the wood and grain color differences. The color should be even but look more like painted wood rather then a table top that has been stained and still allows you to see the grain of the wood.

    Transparent Stain is like semi transparent but it has much less solid material so you can not build up or hold out color problems. If you are installing a cedar, Redwood or other natural wood that looks great you can use a fully transparent or no color protector or you can use a Transparent Stain that will tint the color of the wood slightly without effecting the natural color of the wood.

    For the life of the product I like Semi Transparent stains because they seem to fade nice and it is easy to tell when you will need to refinish your surface when the color changes. By that I mean when the color changes 50% you know you are half or more through the life of the coating.

    Dulling or water not beading is an indication for Transparent Stains.

    Solid Stains may seem to last longer however because of the high solids you may not look close enough to see tiny cracks that mean it is time to strip the wood for a new finish.

    Yes that is another thing solid stains often require stripping of the wood with chemicals while Transparent and Semi Transparent Stains simply fade away and allow refinishing without the need to strip back first.

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